Having an abortion does not increase a woman’s risk for depression, according to a new University of Maryland study published in JAMA Psychiatry. To better understand the relationship between having an abortion and women’s mental health, Julia R. Steinberg, Ph.D., assistant professor of family science, University of Maryland School of Public Health, and colleagues analyzed data for nearly 400,000 Danish women born between 1980-1994. The information included abortions, childbirths and antidepressant prescriptions as recorded by the Danish National Registries. It is the first study to explore the risk of antidepressant use around an abortion as a proxy for depression.
Compared to women who did not have an abortion, those who did have an abortion had a higher risk of antidepressant use. But Steinberg stresses this higher risk was the same for both the year before and the year after the abortion, indicating that the higher risk is not due to the abortion but to other factors such as preexisting mental health problems and other adverse experiences.
The study concludes that the risk of antidepressant use did not change from the year before to the year after an abortion, and that the risk of antidepressant use decreased as more time after the abortion elapsed.
“The purported mental health effects of abortion have been used to justify state policies limiting access to abortion in the United States,” said Steinberg. “However, our findings show that abortion is not causing depression. Policies based on the notion that abortion harms women’s mental health are misinformed."
Steinberg’s findings from the study Examining the Association of Antidepressant Prescriptions With First Abortion and First Childbirth provide important new evidence that can inform policy. Her research also supports the recent National Academies of Science report “The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States” which concludes that “...having an abortion does not increase women’s risk of depression, anxiety or PTSD.”